In this debut novel, playwright and director Angell's musical theater background informs the story of Charlotte, a young Manhattanite who's given up composing music to become a wealthy family's babysitter.
The novel's narrative lynchpin is revealed in its first paragraph: Gretchen McLean, mother of two young sons, "dies without warning" on a dark, rainy day. Even before the tragedy, Charlotte's attachment to the McLean boys and lack of boundaries with Gretchen affects her personal life—when a grad school friend shows up on her front porch with good news, she can't be happy for him, and she chooses to work late rather than spend time with him. Her new intimacy with the McLeans takes over—together, she and Gretchen use binoculars to spy on a famous neighbor, while all her interactions with her own family take place over the phone. Charlotte's narration is so focused and emotionally charged in each moment that it's easy to forget we're reading up to a tragic death. After being with the family in the hospital waiting room, she takes a brief break before jumping in to be the boys' main caregiver, working at an unsustainable pace to do the job their mother couldn't do on her own. As a caregiver for Matthew and George, Charlotte doesn't fit in with the nannies or mothers who line up to gather children from the preschool, but that doesn't stop her from embracing her new role. She uses her ukulele and her composing skills to entertain the boys and their friends. Throughout, the story moves backward and forward in time, from the day before Gretchen's death to Charlotte's first day babysitting two years prior to her time as a graduate student and the professional betrayal that killed her interest in writing music to the weeks and months after Gretchen's death. The back and forth effectively heightens drama, but at times grows tedious in a novel of this length.
Ultimately, a rewarding, emotionally satisfying read. A young woman runs from her talent and finds fulfillment after learning that it never left her, even as she immerses herself in another woman's world.